Ombud calls for formalisation of disputes for digital-platform small businesses

By Anna Macdonald

Tuesday May 10, 2022

social-media-cafe
Small business and family enterprise ombud advocates for government support for small businesses that trade on digital platforms. (BullRun/Adobe)

Australian small business and family enterprise ombud (ASBFEO) Bruce Billlson has advocated for government support for small businesses that trade on digital platforms, in his submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) digital platform services inquiry

Billson argues for guidance from the federal government to formalise the dispute-resolution process within digital platforms, and the establishment of a Federal Small Business Claims List within the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

The passing of the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022 is the third and final recommendation from the ASBFEO. 

The ombud further outlined four disputes the organisation has experienced in assisting small business issues with digital platforms; accounts that have been blocked or hacked, issues surrounding a lack of an appeals process for the digital platforms’ decisions, operators posing as Australian small businesses online or selling faulty goods, and orchestrated fake bad review campaigns.

Billson estimates the total messages it receives concerning digital platform issues to be 500. 

Concerning hacked accounts, a case study detailed in the submission included an incident of the ASBFEO contacting Meta (previously named Facebook and the parent company of Instagram) on behalf of a sole trader whose account was hacked by a cryptocurrency scam. 

Unable to get in touch with Instagram in-app, the sole trader reached out to ASBFEO. The ombud contacted its Meta contacts and the sole trader regained her account access. 

The ASBFEO estimated issues of that nature are typically resolved in a seven-day timeline with Meta, which it labelled as not timely enough for small businesses that is reliant on social media.

“Given the size of these businesses, and the nature of social media where regularity of posting content is imperative, a week’s worth of lost business activity often has a substantial recovery period and may cause irreparable damage,” the submission read. 

The submission recommends regulatory framework be amended so small businesses can resolve disputes quicker and easier, with ASBFEO stepping in only in more complex situations. 

The ASBFEO emphasised the importance for small businesses to have online presences, particularly through platforms such as Facebook, Google and food- or grocery-delivery apps.


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